By: Dennis Cook
The Mother Hips :: 04.25.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
The longer a band is around the greater the chance of diminishing returns, particularly in the live setting. It's a harsh truth but reality all the same. Does anyone really want to see say the Eagles of today versus the hot shit desperados of the early '70s who played gigs so wild Joni Mitchell once reportedly danced barefoot through broken glass so entranced was she by their "Witchy Woman"? There are, happily, exceptions to this generalization and The Mother Hips are surely one. I saw my first Hips show shortly after the release of Part-Timer Goes Full in 1995, and while neatly dumbstruck by their concert presence, sheer talent and natural charm, I'd take today's Hips over those shaggy youngsters any day.
I've seen a LOT of Mother Hips shows in the intervening 14 years and this night at The Independent was special. Not because of stunts, pandering or one-off gimmickry, but because what it cemented was this is one reliable, consistently excellent band. There are fewer and fewer things we can bank on in this world and I'll stake my rep that if you plunk down your dollar to see these guys you're in for a good time. In terms of classic two-guitar, bass and drums rock outfits, they simply don't come better than the Hips, who lit up a tightly packed room, generating a shared heat that had folks flushed, loose and head-noddingly happy.
The boys did get a little extra muscle from pal Jackie Greene, looking dapper in his new Woodstock beard behind his keyboards, and finding his way inside the songs in a way that elevated and accented things in a really satisfying way, especially for those of us who've heard many of these songs many times before. Like the rest onstage, he found something personally inspirational in each cut, some element that propelled his performance. I think they know how good these songs are – none of the Hips are dumb guys – and it seemed like they were kinda reveling in the quality of what they've wrought, appreciating fine songs that just happen to have been written by them.
One caught them passing grins in the turnarounds, mixing things up a bit, tossing a vocal around with a different hand or riding the hard edge of a solo with extra vigor. Hips shows rise and fall based on their collective conviction, and perhaps stirred by an especially enthusiastic audience, they played like men who have every right to put their band's name right next to The Kinks, The Bee Gees, The Beatles or The Who. In our widely accepted culture of hero worship it's seen as heresy or hyperbole to suggest a band from the past 20 years has any right to such a claim/title, but I'm here to call bullshit on that shortsighted thinking, which at its heart suggests that rock somehow stopped after the '60s/'70s and has been eating its own tail ever since. Nope, it's rolling like a river, and there are groups every bit the equal of these rightly celebrated artists, and The Mother Hips rate. I'd put their latest album, 2007's Kiss The Crystal Flake, up against The Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies or The Who's Face Dances as an example of a terrific band doing what they do very well.
|The Mother Hips w/ Greene :: 04.25 :: The Indi by Jason Baldwin|
One thing the Hips have over these better-known peers is their almost-completely clunker free live reputation. Some switch in their heads, particularly the lineup of Tim Bluhm (guitar, vocal), Greg Loiacono (guitar, vocals), John Hofer (drums) and Paul Hoaglin (bass, vocals), is toggled when they hit the stage and they get the job done. You could almost see the electricity start to flow as the first chords were struck at The Independent, and as it coursed through them, feeding back from the front ranks singing along to every line, they thrived in a very present, very connected way. I never fail to get the biggest goddamn kick out of watching them make music. It's infectious in a way that makes me - and quite a few others as evidenced by the awe-struck first timers beside me – love music in the larger sense. Their music reminds us what is good and fine about rock, what it might be but frequently isn't, settling for lesser roads full of greater riches and renown but ultimately a lesser thing than what the Hips have wrought. Less verbosely, they make one want to yell, "Hail, hail rock 'n' roll!"
A few other glosses: Greene's swirling, engulfing organ work, as on opener "Red Tandy," was so S.F. sweet it made me want to tye-dye shit; the rough edge in Loiacono's voice kept giving a cool, vaguely Elvis Costello quality to certain lines; the strange feeling late in the show that the Hips may be America's long-awaited answer to Rockpile; the sleek, modern feel to many of the older tunes, simultaneously pub friendly and ready for space launch; a great new Bluhm number that had a smoothness and lightness of touch that's kinda ALO-ish; the way the floorboards creaked under our collective hop during "Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear"; and how Hofer kept it down with such enormous feel that I had to resist the urge to charge the stage and kiss his dear, time-keeping head multiple times. Despite the myriad shows under my belt, The Mother Hips remain tremendously evocative, operating on many levels while putting four-to-the-floor and making folks shout. Nights like this one are faith-affirming, and I hope they arrive on the other side as powered up as we lucky listeners for the years ahead.
|The Mother Hips by Josh Miller|
A few words for the empathetic openers before I bounce: Only my second time seeing The Blank Tapes, I am more and more smitten with their let's-put-on-a-show exuberance, all eight of them bopping excitedly as they plow into power pop dappled by melodica, youthful Rickenbacker bass thump and tambourine jingle. Touching on reggae moods, Velvet Underground grooves and lighter, XTC friendly currents, The Blank Tapes are a growing treat full of variety that's a blast to watch. The middle slot was filled by Stone Foxes, whose name I'd heard for years and quickly discovered why. They are new classic rockers in the vein of hidden gems like Wisebird, Leroy Justice, Super 400 and Dirty Sweet, i.e. the sort of bands that could pump fresh blood into AOR-FM radio if they'd just give 'em a chance. The Foxes had plenty of balls and relaxed cool, a confidence that surfaced in their nicely straining vocals and punchy delivery. And they are the rare band with a singing drummer that doesn't deserve to be beaten with a Night Ranger album. Ronnie Lane would've loved these guys.
The Mother Hips are on tour now and play in Brooklyn and NYC this weekend (5/15 & 5/16). Complete dates available here.
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